Can Alachua County afford to take land off the tax rolls?
Actually, by early 2013, Alachua County Forever has protected over $75 million in real estate using $37 million in voter-approved funds. The reason the program could purchase more land than it received in local funds is due to state matches, bargain sales, and acquisitions by partners. Let's look at the impact. The tax base in Alachua County in 2012 was $10.5 billion. The impact on the tax base is $75,000,000 / $10,500,000,000 = 0.007 or less than 1/10 percent. This assumes the property would be taxed at the purchase price. In reality the impact is even lower since the taxable value of the purchases is much lower ($4.6 million) making the impact 0.04%.
Some would argue that even this is too much to reduce our tax base by. However, consider the growth in our tax base -- in the years since this referendum was passed (Nov. 2000), Alachua County's tax base has grown by $4 billion. This means that every four days, the total value of Alachua County's tax base increases by more than the entire taxable value of all the land removed from the tax rolls. If you are to use the market value of the purchases, that impact would be recovered in 24 days.
Purchasing land for conservation reduces future development and economic opportunities.
It is true that land acquired for land conservation can no longer be developed in the traditional sense. But scores of studies have shown that land which remains natural will proportionately use many fewer government services than land that is slated for development. Even land that has not been developed yet, but might be in the future, costs the government money as it must anticipate in its infrastructure planning the demand for utilities, roads, schools, and other public services.
The second factor is the positive impact which nearby greenspace has on property values. Again, numerous real estate studies have demonstrated that properties near parks and other open space are significantly more valuable (thus adding to the tax rolls). Consider the relatively high value of properties near lopen spaces such as lakes, sea shores, golf courses, Central Park in N.Y City, and national parks.
Purchasing land for conservation restrict future generations in their use of the land.
Actually, land development restricts future generations more than land conservation, because it is all too easy to turn natural habitat into suburban sprawl, but virtually impossible to do the reverse. In the future, people will have the choice of what to do with natural areas, as there are no government programs which permanently lock up the land. State lands and their use is controlled by the Governor and Cabinet, local lands are controlled by the County or City Commission. In most cases, conservation lands are initially protected for the duration of the bonds or other funding source which purchased them after that, they are only protected by the political majority of the governing body with jurisdiction. As a practical matter, open space becomes much loved by people and it is politically very difficult to sell or change the use of a park or preserve.
An even more important consideration is the need for youth to experience the outdoors. Numerous studies have shown that the continued disconnection from nature is having profound implications on the next generation. We are raising the first generation of children in American history to have no significant connection to the outdoors and the impacts on mental and physical health, and on cultural and political institutions will be profound if we don't provide them with outdoor opportunities. The children of today, on average, are allowed to roam in 1/9th the area that their parents frequented at the same age. We need greenspace, if not for its own sake, then for ours.